Police divers have found the body of a man inside a car that left the road and ended up submerged in the Wairoa River.

The dive squad arrived on the scene mid-morning yesterday to help search for the missing man.

The NZ Transport Agency said the Tauranga-bound lane on State Highway 29 at Ruahihi, was closed from 11am yesterday for several hours to allow access for the recovery teams.

A late-model Subaru Impreza was recovered from the river about 2pm and loaded on to a Rowe Motors tow truck before being taken back to a Tauranga storage facility.

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Acting Senior Sergeant Cam Anderson moments after a car was recovered from the Wairoa River. Photo / Sandra Conchie
Acting Senior Sergeant Cam Anderson moments after a car was recovered from the Wairoa River. Photo / Sandra Conchie

Acting Senior Sergeant Cam Anderson said due to the river's high water levels the car was initially not visible but about 1pm yesterday the wheels of the upside-down vehicle could be seen in the river.

The police dive squad located the male occupant inside the blue late-model Subaru Impreza about 5m from the edge of the river, Anderson said.

The police dive squad at the scene of a fatal crash on State Highway 29 in the Lower Kaimai Range. Photo / Alan Gibson
The police dive squad at the scene of a fatal crash on State Highway 29 in the Lower Kaimai Range. Photo / Alan Gibson

Recovering the vehicle and its occupant took some time and care, he said.

"Once the dive squad located the car upside down, we needed to find a way to ensure we maintain the integrity of the vehicle without creating any more damage."

A woman, who was also in the car at the time of the crash, was rescued. She was in a stable condition after being taken to Tauranga Hospital with moderate injuries which required surgery.

Anderson said he understood the woman had since undergone surgery, but no further details about her injuries were available.

The path a Subaru Impreza took after it left SH29, careered through a fence and into the Wairoa River. Photo / Sandra Conchie
The path a Subaru Impreza took after it left SH29, careered through a fence and into the Wairoa River. Photo / Sandra Conchie

Anderson said the car was heading from Tauranga towards the Lower Kaimai Range when the crash happened and it had gone through a wire fence and under another before it ended up in the river.

"At this stage, the crash is still under investigation and we don't have a cause for it, and who was driving at the time is also part of our investigation."

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Anderson said the fatality was a reminder to other motorists to ensure they concentrated fully on their driving and not to get distracted, and drive to the conditions in the wet.

Formal identification was yet to take place and the man's next-of-kin informed before the name was officially released, he said.

Anderson said police were keen to hear from anyone who may have witnessed the crash, particularly if they had any photographs or video footage.

The Bay of Plenty Times understands whānau of the deceased and possibly the female occupant were at the crash scene for a time.

"It's a tragedy and our condolences go out to the man's next-of-kin and extended whānau," Anderson said.

Traffic was down to a single lane with traffic management and speed restrictions in place.

The serious crash unit was investigating.

Renee Doddrell, a Tauranga resident who worked in the area, said she heard the sirens as emergency services rushed to the crash.

Doddrell said she believed there needed to be stricter speed limits on the "scary road".

"It's definitely a hard piece of road but people speed as well."

Anderson said a kaumātua from Wairoa hapū had blessed the crash scene and a rāhui (prohibition) was now in place for the Wairoa River for between seven and 14 days.

Anyone with information about the crash should call Tauranga police on 07 577 4300.

- Additional reporting Jean Bell